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Berhalter speaks on USMNT roster, Bradley’s chance, Pulisic’s problems

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NEW YORK (AP) U.S. captain Michael Bradley has an immediate chance to show new coach Gregg Berhalter he deserves to be considered for the next World Cup cycle.

The 31-year-old midfielder was the oldest player and among just four veterans selected for a 27-man roster that will attend Berhalter’s first training camp starting Jan. 6.

[ MORE: Berhalter names first USMNT squad ]

“I truly believe that and this is an opportunity for Michael to show his value to the group,” Berhalter said during a conference call Thursday. “So we’re excited to see him and how he works through this training camp and meeting the team and also contributing to what we’re trying to do on the field.”

Bradley has 142 international appearances but like most veterans was dropped after the October 2017 loss at Trinidad and Tobago that ended the Americans’ streak of seven straight World Cup appearances. He returned in October following a one-year absence along with 34-year-old goalkeeper Brad Guzan.

Guzan was omitted so he can train under a new club coach with Atlanta, which opens in February with the CONCACAF Champions League. Berhalter left off 29-year-old forward Jozy Altidore and 28-year-old midfielder Darlington Nagbe, both recovering from injuries. Berhalter said Altidore will come to camp for a day or two to “see the environment.”

The first U.S. coach who played for the Americans in the World Cup, Berhalter was hired Dec. 2 from the Columbus Crew to succeed Dave Sarachan, the interim coach for 13 months. Berhalter’s first matches are exhibitions against Panama on Jan. 27 at Glendale, Arizona, and against Costa Rica on Feb. 2 at San Jose, California. The team’s first competitive match in 20 months is June 18 at St. Paul, Minnesota, where the Americans open the defense of their CONCACAF Gold Cup title.

Sarachan gave debuts to 23 players, with the Americans winning three matches, lost five and tied four. Berhalter chose 12 players with no national team experience for the training camp, and seven others with five appearances or fewer. The group averages 24 years, 230 days and just 10 appearances.

Berhalter’s roster was chosen entirely from MLS, and he intends to add a central midfielder or winger. The only other players picked with more than a dozen appearances were forward Gyasi Zardes (40) and midfielders Kellyn Acosta (23) and Paul Arriola (17).

Players who could make debuts include are goalkeeper Tyler Miller; defenders Justin Glad, Nick Lima, Daniel Lovitz, Mark McKenzie, Keegan Rosenberry and Auston Trusty; midfielders Corey Baird, Russell Canouse and Djordje Mihailovic; and forwards Jeremy Ebobisse and Christian Ramirez.

Berhalter has been in Europe meeting with the foreign-based portion of his player pool, a group not available to the national team until a pair of home exhibitions in March. The 45-year-old Berhalter, a member of the 2002 and ’06 World Cup rosters, said he is “trying to get a sense of the past but also the future, what this group is looking for.”

“I think we can use this opportunity in this training camp to just start the process and set the tone for what this group is going to be like,” he said, emphasizing three points: “building a culture within the team, instilling a style of play and then competing – competing in every single thing we do.”

Among the players he met with in Germany was 20-year-old star midfielder Christian Pulisic, who on Tuesday made first Bundesliga start for Borussia Dortmund since Sept. 29. Since returning in October following a three-week injury layoff, Pulisic has lost playing time to 18-year-old English midfielder Jadon Sancho.

“At the moment it hasn’t been going the best for him, and I think that’s when guys really can show their qualities, just how they endure through times like this,” Berhalter said. “And we talked about that.”

After training at Carson, California, each winter since 2004, the U.S. is moving its January camp 120 miles south to Chula Vista, near San Diego.

The roster:

Goalkeepers: Alex Bono (Toronto), Sean Johnson (New York City), Tyler Miller (LA), Zack Steffen (Columbus)

Defenders: Reggie Cannon (Dallas), Greg Garza (Cincinnati), Justen Glad (Salt Lake), Nick Lima (San Jose), Aaron Long (New York Red Bulls), Daniel Lovitz (Montreal), Mark McKenzie (Philadelphia), Keegan Rosenberry (Colorado), Auston Trusty (Philadelphia), Walker Zimmerman (LA)

Midfielders: Kellyn Acosta (Colorado), Paul Arriola (D.C.), Corey Baird (Salt Lake), Michael Bradley (Toronto), Russell Canouse (D.C.), Marky Delgado (Toronto), Sebastian Lletget (LA Galaxy), Djordje Mihailovic (Chicago), Cristian Roldan (Seattle), Wil Trapp (Columbus)

Forwards: Jeremy Ebobisse (Portland), Christian Ramirez (LA), Gyasi Zardes (Columbus).

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

U.S. Soccer makes it official: USMNT’s first Gold Cup tuneup to be vs. Jamaica

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It will be a rematch of the 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup final as the U.S. begins its preparations for this summer’s Gold Cup.

U.S. Soccer announced that the U.S. Men’s National Team will host Jamaica in a friendly match on June 5 in Washington D.C. at Audi Field, the home of D.C. United. Jamaica, ranked No. 53 in FIFA’s latest world rankings, has made the finals of each of the last two Gold Cups, and they’ll be hosting matches at the Gold Cup for the first time in tournament history in this year’s edition.

“As we prepare for the start of the Gold Cup, this is the perfect opportunity in terms of opponent and venue,” USMNT head coach Gregg Berhalter said in a statement. “Playing against Jamaica we get exposure to another different style of play, and one that we may see later in the tournament. For us, there’s always something special about playing in the nation’s capital. There have been so many memorable games for the National Team in Washington, D.C., and now we look forward to beginning another chapter in the new stadium.”

For the U.S., it’s a strong test and part of a really solid 1-2 punch of friendly matches, beginning with Jamaica and then Venezuela ahead of the Gold Cup. Berhalter is hoping it will prepare the U.S. for battles with Panama and Trinidad and Tobago. Should the U.S. advance, it could face potentially Jamaica, Honduras, or even El Salvador in the quarterfinals or semifinals, with a trip to the final on the line.

Gregg Berhalter has just a few weeks before he has to make one of his first big decisions, albiet one with a lot of flexibility. By May 16, Berhalter must submit to CONCACAF his provisional Gold Cup squad, which can include up to 40 players and four goalkeepers. By Monday, June 3, just two days before this friendly match against Jamaica, Berhalter must submit his final roster of 23 players, including three goalkeepers.

Berhalter, any any coach, has up until 24 hours until the USMNT’s first game (on June 18) to make any emergency replacements. As such, it’s likely that Berhalter will carry more than 23 players with him when the U.S. plays Jamaica and Venezuela.

Adebayor reveals reason behind that celebration against Arsenal

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Just about everyone remembers it. (If not, watch it here on Youtube)

Then Manchester City striker Emmanuel Adebayor finds himself in space between two of Arsenal’s centerbacks, Adebayor’s former teammates, before the Togolese striker heads home a terrific goal. Adebayor then go on a 100-yard sprint down the left side of the field, finishing in an epic knee slide right in front of the Arsenal away support at the Etihad, then called the City of Manchester Stadium.

[MORE: MLS still has a long way to go]

It was audacious. It was outrageous. But we didn’t know why he truly did that until now.

In a wide-ranging interview with the Daily Mail, Adebayor said that racist abuse from Arsenal fans that day was what led to his famous celebration for Man City. Racist abuse has been back in the news recently, as many Afro-descended players including Raheem Sterling, Danny Rose and Daniel Sturridge have spoken out about the hate, abuse, and vitriol they experience on a weekly basis.

“I remember getting to the stadium and Arsenal fans were there,” Adebayor told the Daily Mail. “All I heard was the the chant ‘Your mother is a whore and your father washes elephants.’ My father worked in currency exchange and my mother is a businesswoman. But this went on and on. So how can I reply? I didn’t have a voice to go against thousands of supporters.

“And now the same FA are trying to stop racism? I’m sorry. It does not work that way. Today is too late. We are tired. Enough is enough. I see Mario Balotelli and Didier Drogba on Instagram. How many times do we have to post something? We have to react. We have to leave the pitch.”

Earlier in the interview, Adebayor also stated he did not want to leave Arsenal, but said he was forced to by then-manager Arsene Wenger. The now 35-year-old striker also admitted that Arsenal didn’t do enough to hold onto its top players, allowing the likes of Cesc Fabregas and Robin Van Persie, along with himself, to leave and win titles and earn more money elsewhere.

“I did not just wake up one morning at Manchester City,” Adebayor said. “I had signed a five-year contract at Arsenal. I came back for pre-season and Wenger said ‘You have to leave’. I said ‘Why should I leave?’ I asked for one more year and if it does not work, I will walk off. He’s like ‘No.’ He said if I stayed he would not put me in the squad. When you hear that, you have to go.”

The rest of the interview is worth your time, in which Adebayor reveals he nearly committed suicide as a teenager in the Metz academy, what it was like seeing death flash before his eyes in Angola during the 2010 African Cup of Nations, when the Togo team bus was attacked by militants, and, on a lighter note, who his favorite teammates were.

Marseille president proposes video-game like rule changes

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If he’s serious, Marseille’s club president could be proposing a rule change that would drastically alter the way soccer is played.

Speaking at a summit in France for start-up companies, Jacques-Henri Eyraud stated his support for allowing goals scored from shots fired outside of the box to count for two goals, instead of one. It would be similar to how in basketball, a ball shot from outside the arc is worth three points instead of two. Of course, when that rule came into existence in the NBA in the late 1970s, it completely revolutionized the game.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Eyraud compared the rule change to the ultra-popular FIFA video game, saying if it could happen in the video game, why not in real life (note: it’s unclear whether this is actually possible in FIFA, but Eyraud could have been speaking in hypotheticals).

“FIFA (the video game) is one of my competitors,” Eyraud said. “Fortnite is one of my competitors in the digital world. Football is extraordinarily conservative, it has to evolve. “Why does (the video game) now propose that a goal put outside of the box, is worth two points? Why could not that be the case in real life?”

While soccer is still the world’s most popular game, it’s true that video games in general – and the rising cost of tickets in certain countries – are having an impact on getting fans into the stadium. With the ease and joy of playing soccer in a video game, some people could be convinced to stay inside on their couch and enjoy the game from home instead of going out to the stadium.

It may just be a crazy idea or a marketing ploy, but it’s fun to think about how that rule change could revolutionize soccer. It would certainly have made players such as David Beckham and Steven Gerrard, as well as free kick experts like Beckham, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo all the more valuable. Plus, one free kick late in the match, with a team trailing 1-0, could lead to a dramatic 2-1 victory with one kick.

It probably won’t happen – though it would be cool to toggle that on in the FIFA video game – but it’s a fun idea to think about.

Impact travel saga highlights how far MLS still has to go

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Major League Soccer has made many impressive strides in its 24 seasons of existence. But if the Montreal Impact’s travel situation proved anything, it’s that the league still has a long way to go to be compared alongside the big four American leagues – The NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL.

[READ: Top Premier League Storylines for Week 36]

The Montreal Impact spent around 13 hours on Tuesday and Wednesday in transit ahead of its match on Wednesday evening against the New England Revolution. Remarkably, the Impact beat the Revolution, 3-0 at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., but it should never have taken that long to get the Impact down – or any professional team – from Montreal to the Boston suburbs.

According to an article in the Athletic, which details the Impact’s administrative travel mishaps, the team ended up spending seven hours in the Montreal International Airport waiting for a delayed flight to Logan International Airport in Boston, only for the flight to be cancelled at 10 p.m.

The players were then scheduled to arrive back at the airport the next morning to take a charter flight, but then that flight was delayed a further five hours, due to a flight schedule change – Logan Airport wouldn’t accept the charter – and having to go through customs and immigration in Montreal before re-boarding the flight and waiting their turn.

Shockingly, the Impact arrived at their hotel with just three and a half hours before kickoff. Evan Bush, the Impact’s starting goalkeeper and representative for the MLS Players Association, believed that the game should have been called off. Per the Athletic, the Impact asked the league to postpone the game, but the league apparently didn’t want to inconvenience fans and TV broadcasters, who are ultimately the ones that pay to watch the players. So it was a financial decision. The Impact had all their limbs, hence, they were ready to go.

As per the most recent collective bargaining agreement signed between the MLSPA and the league, teams are only allowed four charter flights per season (Montreal’s charter planes to and from Boston reportedly won’t count against their four for this season). MLS views charter flights – now seemingly archaic considering how many incredibly rich owners there are in the league – as a type of competitive advantage, which could sway one international or domestic signing from joining one team over another.

Thus, in 2019, everyone from Evan Bush to Wayne Rooney and Zlatan are taking commercial flights and sitting in economy, sometimes having to split up into multiple groups on different flights to get everyone to the final destination. Most teams save their charter flights for long-haul journeys, like Montreal to Los Angeles or Vancouver to Atlanta, leaving medium and short-haul flights to the mercy of the weather or flight delays at some of North America’s busiest airports.

In 2019, it’s a shame that MLS is still operating this way, as though team owners can’t afford to fly their players around in the type of accommodations that would – over the course of a long, difficult season filled with a lot of travel – help keep players fresher by the end of the year.

Since it’s been negotiated, there’s nothing the league can do right now, but hopefully when the CBA next comes due in 2020, the league will take that off the table and allow all teams to use charters as they choose.

While events like this can happen in the other sports, having players take charter flights significantly helps both the team administration and helps avoid many of the pitfalls of flying basic economy with the rest of the country.